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Brussels: 150.000 demonstrate against neo-liberalism

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The Belgian capital saw a massive demonstration against the upcoming summit of the European Union designed to review the results of five years of implementing the neoliberal Lisbon Agenda.

The march assembled as Gare du Midi from midday onwards and passed through to main streets up to the final rally at the Gare du Nord.

Just to give an indication of the size of the demonstration: It took five hours till the last marchers arrived at the final destination of the march.

The initiative for the demonstration had been a call made at the last European Social Forum in London as an international demonstration against the neo-liberal attacks, the capitalist EU draft constitution and against war and occupation of Iraq.

But the European Social Forum failed to make the call a united European demonstration and a rallying point to bring together the various struggles. Even at the London ESF itself the UK Stop the War Coalition, in fact the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party, insisted that on 19 March they would be demonstrating in London against the war, not in Brussels against the European bosses’ offensive. In this the Italian section of the ESF backed them. The result was that virtually no one came from Britain and the Italian forces were much reduced.

The leadership of the demonstration and the mobilisation itself was almost completely left to the European Trade Union council (ETUC) and the national ETUC-leaderships and bureaucracies.

No wonder that the speeches at the beginning as well as at the end were a “who is who” of the European trade union bureaucracy. The rally of the social movements at Port d’Anderlecht was politically more left wing, but completely sidelined.

John Monks, ETUC-leader’s speech, showed clearly, what the ETUC’s impact was. The speech did not mention he war and occupation at all. It did not criticise the European constitution. It focused entirely on the Bolkestein directive, calling for the withdrawal of “Frankenstein’s Europe” and a plaintive appeal to the European Commission to “rework” the directive.

The European Social Forum also failed to provide any call to unite the mass struggles in defence of social gains, such as the recent ones in France, the (threatened but then called -off) strike against the pensions robbery in Britain and all the other struggles in Europe. It also failed to put any demands on the European Trade Union leaders. The “Social Movements” and Attac formed the end of the march, symbolically trailing behind the union leaders.

The march itself started of with the youth march - mainly a march of Trade Union youth and students associations from Belgium. It was a loud parade with huge trucks and sound systems. REVOLUTION- the socialist youth organisation had a small, but lively contingent in the demonstration and distributed thousands of leaflets in French and other languages to the marchers.

Then the main march of the unions followed. There were large and impressive contingents from Belgium and the Netherlands. Also some East European countries like Romania, Slovenia and Poland had sizable and well organised contingents on the march.

The British union movement was almost invisible represented by only a few unison placards. But the German unions also failed to turn up in large numbers: between 7.000 and 10.000 from Europe’s largest country. This failure to mobilise significant numbers was the result of the unions’ refusal to make the demonstration a public campaigning event and focus.

It was the French and Belgian workers movement, who saved the demonstration from outright failure. And amongst them it was the CGT who mobilised the largest and most militant contingents. It alone had several 10.000s on the demonstrations, divided up into regional and local sections with sound systems. The CGT, one has to day, dwarfed the other French unions including the more radical one’s like SUD and G 10.

The CGT blocks were also the most political and militant, chanting loudly and throwing loud and smoky firecrackers. More importantly, it was they who successfully challenged the political timidity of the ETUC. The ETUC wanted to restrict the whole demonstration to protest against Bolkestein directive on services.

The CGT (and most of the other French unions and unions from the Benelux as well) made the fight against the neo-liberal European constitution a major focus of their political intervention and slogans. Tens of thousands of stickers against the constitution were distributed.

The 5000 leaflets members of our international tendency from Britain, France, Germany and Sweden distributed were extremely well received by the French workers, who took bundles to distribute themselves.

The impressive and encouraging role played by the CGT workers was also a result of the recent struggles in France for the 35 hour week and of central importance the question of the European constitution plays in the mind of the French labour movement and population in general.

But the “European day of action” was in reality no real Europe-wide event. The mass demonstration in Brussels was accompanied by mass demonstrations in London and Rome against the occupation of Iraq. But it was - unfortunately - a coincidence of dates, rather than a coordinated action.

This poses the question “to be or not to be” to the European Social Forum. Can it become a centre for mobilising such action or will it remain a mere talking shop— a think tank for vapid reformist policies with no takers in the reformist parties. Since the Florence ESF’s courageous antiwar call, which led to worldwide demonstrations by tens of millions on February 15th 2003, the ESF has just vegetated. It has repeatedly failed to give a lead to the widespread struggles of workers and youth that wracked Europe over the last two years.

In fact to avoid a rapid descent into irrelevancy the next European Preparatory Assembly of the ESF, due to take place in Prague in mid-May, must give a lead in bringing together the various struggles, in encouraging forces like the French CGT with its mass working class membership and the East European Unions together in a real Europe-wide co-ordination of struggles against the social attacks, the constitution and imperialist war. Otherwise, the European Social Forum will remain - as it proved to be in Brussels - a feeble appendage of the ETUC - rather than an organ to challenge the old bureaucratic apparatuses.

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